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REVIEW: Breeding at King’s Head Theatre

Breeding, King’s Head Theatre review – ‘queer adoption comes under the microscope’

★★★★☆ by Ifan Llewelyn

What makes a gay couple want to have children? For our straight counterparts, it’s part of the roadmap laid out in front of them from early childhood. Dating, proposal, marriage, children, retirement and… death. Though this isn’t what every hetero’s future holds, it certainly is what’s expected. The same can’t be said for us queer folk. Our relationships have only gained wider legitimacy in the last decade or two, so it’s down to us to shape our futures. The double edge of this blade is explored in Barry Mcstay’s gripping new play, Breeding, as queer adoption comes under the microscope.

We meet Eoin (Barry McStay) and Zeb (Dan Nicholson) as they embark on the long and winding journey toward parenthood as a same-sex couple. Interior decorator Eoin is the domestic, romantic type who longs to create the perfect family unit whereas Zeb, his lawyer partner, isn’t quite ready to let go of his raunchy nights out. Having made the decision to become dads, however one-sidedly, it’s down to caseworker Beth (Aamira Challenger) to help or hinder them on their journey.

Progressing through the stages of adoption, Zeb and Eoin’s love story unfurls itself in a series of heart-warming scenes. We see them meet, their first date dipping in the Hamsptead ponds, fall in love, all before Zeb takes the plunge to go down on one knee and propose. The more time Beth spends with them, dubbing them her ‘nice gays’, the more she lets her professional veneer slip and shares her own struggles of trying to become a parent. All seems to be going to plan before a concealed diagnosis sends all three of them into a tailspin and Beth is forced to choose between her professional duty and newfound friendships.

A triad of powerhouse performances, this show’s success relies on the strength of each actor bringing something unexpected and captivating to their rendering of each character. In Barry McStay’s case, it’s an undeniable authenticity. In Dan Nicholson’s, it’s his deceptively staid presence. In Aamira Challenger’s performance, it’s a lightness that brings much-needed levity to the production – even when it veers on the tragic.

Under Matthew Iliffe’s succinct yet fruitful direction, the world of this couple is laid bare on a narrow sliver of stage. The audience is painted a clear picture of every scene in the face of the play’s brisk pace. We seamlessly transition from living room to nightclub to hospital waiting room without hitting any road bumps along the way – this is certainly down to deft choices made on light and sound by Ryan Joseph Stafford and Julian Starr respectively.

The writing stays strong throughout, and Barry McStay succeeds in delivering a true gut-punch with the play’s ‘point of no return’. Few playwrights can rouse such excruciating silence from an audience as McStay does with Breeding. It’s a scene that stays with you – you’ll know the one.

While the play skews a little Hallmark Original Movie towards its conclusion, the journey there is one that stays with you. Bejewelled with thought-provoking discussions throughout – a particular highlight being parenthood for male same-sex couples versus a female same-sex couples – Breeding is a touching exploration of what it means to be a parent and a charming meditation on family bonds.

Breeding is playing at the King’s Head Theatre until Sunday, 7th May. Tickets are available to purchase HERE.

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